Crime Reporting: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver | Transcript

John Oliver discusses the outlets that cover crime, the incentives that drive them, the flawed sources they rely upon, and an alternative name for Miss Piggy.
Crime Reporting: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
Season 9 Episode 25
Aired on October 9, 2022

Main segment: American news media
Other segment: Mahsa Amini protest

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♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ [Cheers and applause]

John: Welcome, welcome, welcome to “Last Week Tonight!” I’m John Oliver, thanks so much for joining us. It has been a busy week. Russia’s bridge to Crimea was seriously damaged, in yet another setback for them, Herschel Walker acted out ten different episodes of “Maury,” and joe Biden gave a speech at a factory in Maryland, that he began like this.

Let me start off with two words: made in America.

John: Yeah, that’s three words. That’s three words. You just outbiden’ed yourself. I’m surprised the rest of the speech didn’t go, “two words: made in America, five words: crushed it. Nine words: yep. Four words: you betcha.” But we’re going to start in Iran. The country where people heard, “you can’t possibly make yogurt into a soda,” and were like, “the fuck we can’t!” Don’t knock it till you try it. For the last three weeks, there’ve been huge protests all over Iran, following the death of a young woman named Mahsa Amini after her arrest for violating mandatory hijab rules by Iran’s so-called “morality police.” And I know “morality police” sounds like a fake name Tucker Carlson made up for people who won’t let him say slurs anymore, but it’s a very real organization that enforces dress and behavior rules, which has been newly energized under a hard-line new president who took office last year. For a while now, there’s been widespread discontent in Iran over repression, corruption, inflation, and economic pain caused in part by U.S. sanctions. But the death of Mahsa Amini’s has unleashed a torrent of fury, led by one group in particular.

Schoolgirls have now joined anti-government protests in Iran. Here in capital Tehran, they’re marching in the streets, chanting “death to the dictator.” The biggest threat for more than a decade to Iran’s radical Islamic leadership are now teenagers.

John: It’s true. Teenagers are the scariest thing to the Iranian government. Which honestly feels right. Teenagers are terrifying. The list of groups I never want mad at me goes, in ascending order, the mafia, the mafia from fifty years ago, Jason Momoa, which is less about him being physically imposing and more about me craving his approval, robots, spiders after they all learn to work together, and then, right at the top: teenage girls. And the young women at the forefront of these protests have been making it very clear that they’re not afraid to stand up to the morality police, or, indeed, anybody.

This video shows female students in Shiraz, shouting “Basijis get lost” to a member of the feared Basiji paramilitary force who had been invited to give a speech. And in this video, filmed near the capital Tehran, Iranian schoolgirls, many without their heads covered, throw objects at a man and chase him away.

John: Holy shit! The bravery of those girls is genuinely incredible. I presume the school they attend is “the fuck around and find out academy for girls.” And if that’s not what it’s called, it should be from now on. These protests are taking many forms, and rapidly spreading online when Iranian women were filmed cutting their hair in protest, women around the world started doing the same in solidarity. Which is incredibly inspiring. Although I will say, it’s a little hurtful that when Iranian women cut their own hair, everyone supports them, but when I cut my own hair, everyone says I look like Amelie fell head-first into a garbage disposal. They weren’t wrong about that — I’m just saying, it’s a double standard. Unsurprisingly, the government is now violently cracking down, killing over 100 protestors and bystanders. And Ayatollah Khameini has resorted to claiming America’s behind these protests, and has been secretly instigating them. And look, it’s not like America hasn’t meddled in Iran’s affairs in the past, but in this instance, the protestors seem very clear about who they’re mad at, and it is him.

These young girls no longer want to see his face in their classrooms. Instead, they wrote their dreams behind his framed picture, equality and freedom, to turn this page of Iran’s history.

John: That is extremely powerful to see. And frankly, I don’t blame those girls for not wanting to see that particular face every day, even if he wasn’t the symbol of oppression and tyranny. It looks like right before that picture was taken, the photographer said, “ready? Three, two, one, when a panda has twins, it keeps the stronger one and abandons the other. Say cheese!” Perfect! As for what happens next, it’s hard to say. There have been civilian uprisings in Iran before that the government snuffed out, like the green movement in 2009. And that could well happen again here. But as some Iranians have said, this time does feel a little different. The primary drivers of these protests are young, defiant, and fed up with the status quo. And they deserve our sustained attention. Because, to the young people of Iran, let me say this. If I may borrow some phrasing from Joe Biden, I have two words for you: you are all absolutely fucking amazing. And now this.

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And now, Christopher Columbus kind of cool guy.

Coming up, am I the only guy who thinks Christopher Columbus was really kind of a cool guy? He discovered our hemisphere, he wrist life and limb to do it, I know everybody’s beating up on him? I think that’s very unfair and he’s not around to defend himself.

I’m not saying customer Columbus was an angel or that he was a perfect individual, but he obviously had some major accomplishments.

We need to judge him by the standards of his own time and not ours. By the way, by those standards, Christopher Columbus was a pretty good guy.

We are flawed, is Columbus flawed? Was he flawed? Was he flawed? We talked about this before on your show. Of course he was flawed. We all are. Who are we to judge for better or for worse?

Columbus was an epic figure in human history.

That debate continues.

He also brought back to Europe something you might not be aware of which is potatoes.

John: Moving on. Our main story tonight concerns crime — y’know: McGruff’s kink. It’s genuinely impressive this crime dog taught a whole generation how to be narcs while simultaneously dressing like he’s about to jerk it in the back of a movie theater. Specifically, we’re going to talk about how crime is covered by the news. Because the news loves covering crime — sometimes seriously, and sometimes like this.

Let’s get this straight from the start: you’re Nedra Brantley, right?

I am.

Is your name Mike?

No, it’s not.

This is what Nedra’s car looked like today. “Mike is a cheater” spray painted all over it. Cheater, cheater, Mike is a cheater. Mike, Mike, Mike, Mike, Mike, Mike, Mike, see what you’ve done? I don’t know who you are. I don’t know where you are. But you may want to start changing your ways — or changing your name.

John: Yes. I want that man on my tv all day every day. In fact, if you sent NBC4 Washington’s Pat Collins to Ukraine, I’d guarantee it’d be sorted out tomorrow. “Vlad Vlad Vlad Vlad Vlad — see what you’ve done?!” You’ve undoubtedly noticed that crime makes up a significant part of your local news’s programming. But the scale of that coverage has a real impact. Research has shown that viewing local tv news is related to increased fear of, and concern about crime, and that tv news viewers are also more likely to support tougher crime policies. Which does help explain why our perceptions of crime can be sharply at odds with the reality of it. For over thirty years, Gallup has asked Americans whether they think the U.S. has more or less crime compared to the year before, and in in every year but one, even as the actual crime rate has plummeted. Interestingly, the one year a majority said “less” was 2001. Famously a year where everything was super chill, no drama, just vibes. Tv news leans hard on “this could happen to you” crime stories, which are designed to pull you in — with the latest version being this.

Authorities continue to sound the alarm about the dangers of rainbow fentanyl.

Another warning about rainbow fentanyl — the deadly drug disguised as candy!

It is called rainbow fentanyl. The colorful candy-like appearance is actually designed to appeal to young kids.

They’re attractive, they’re colorful, they look like candy.

This is every parent’s worst nightmare. Especially in the month of October, as Halloween fast approaches. This is treacherous deception to market rainbow fentanyl like candy.

John: Okay so, first, rainbow fentanyl sounds like the title of a very special episode of “My Little Pony.” But second, while the idea of it being made to target kids sounds scary, experts on narcotics have pointed out: those pills are almost certainly colored just to differentiate products, and it has nothing to do with marketing to kids at all, period, whatsoever. Which does makes sense, because kids — and this is true — not an ideal customer base for expensive street drugs. Because even if dealers were targeting trick-or-treaters with a “first one’s on the house” strategy, where do you expect little Zeke to come up with the cash for the next one? Sure, he’s got his weekly allowance, but he smacked his brother yesterday, so that’s that dollar gone. And the rest of his net worth is tied up in Lego store gift cards. He’s useless to dealers. Maybe check back in ten years when he gets prescribed oxy after a lacrosse injury. And look, that’s not to say that opioid addiction among young people isn’t a real issue — it obviously is. But it doesn’t help the conversation around that issue, to have newscasters jumping on splashy “your kid’s Halloween candy could be fentanyl” stories that even in this report, they half-acknowledge is bullshit, right at the very end.

Police departments are warning parents to check the candy their kids bring home from trick or treating.

We don’t want to have kids who are taking pills that they think is candy and is really not.

There have been no instances of that happening.

John: Yeah, of course not. I’m so glad you tacked that disclaimer on at the end there. I’m sure the three second debunk read over the station logo is exactly what everyone’s going to take away from that report, and definitely not the images of little hulks sticking their hands into bowls of skittle-shaped smack. But that instinct to run an eye-catching crime story without being skeptical of its sourcing is unfortunately incredibly common. So given that, tonight, let’s talk about crime reporting — specifically, the incentives driving the outlets that cover crime, the flawed sources they rely upon, and the greater harm it can do to all of us. And let’s start with the obvious here — crime has always driven ratings. The mantra “if it bleeds, it leads” has been around for decades. But the philosophy really took hold around the 1970s, when two local stations in Philadelphia pioneered the “eyewitness” and “action news” formats, which leaned heavily on crime news. As one anchor there explained, “crime was cheap to cover. It was easy to cover. The assignment desk said to the cameraman, ‘you shoot the scene, you shoot the blood, you shoot victims, whatever they got. And you can do it in 20 seconds.'” But that isn’t good. The most meaningful stories are rarely the fastest or the cheapest. And I’m not just saying that because I host “very long news stories that are also expensive to produce: the comedy show,” I’m saying it because it’s true. Nonetheless, those formats quickly spread to 200 markets around the country. And by the 1990s, CNN even did a whole piece wondering if all that crime coverage was necessarily a good thing.

Crime news can look a lot like entertainment.

The dark black is crime coverage.

One Los Angeles station, a study shows, spent over half its newscasts on crime. Others came close.

I’m convinced that if you could get everyone who wanted to commit suicide to do it on — in a public place where the media could be present, we would have like a tv show called “suicide today.”

John: Wow, way to bring down the room. But not to step on that man’s creative pursuits, but there’s already primetime programming where people kill themselves for our entertainment — it’s called Monday night football. Happy concussion season football fans! It sure feels like this sport maybe shouldn’t exist! So people have been raising the alarm about our obsession with crime news for a while. But it’s clearly been hard for news outlets to give it up. As they’re constantly making space for stories about crimes — be they major or incredibly minor — often illustrated with mugshots. The “New York Daily News” even has mugshot galleries on their website right now, with titles like, “criminally bad hair days.” And “babes behind bars.” It’s fun, isn’t it? It’s fun, because it’s their worst day. And the thing is, the faces that get shown can compound existing inequities in our justice system. A study a few years ago here in New York found that, while around a quarter of the city’s population is black, black people made up half of all arrests and three-quarters of criminals shown on the news. Which is clearly going to distort public perception. And while outlets may justify reporting on sensational arrests as “part of the public interest”, far too often — whether due to a lack of time, or resources, or inclination — they don’t follow up on what the outcomes of those cases are. Which can seriously impact people’s lives. Take Darcell Trotter — he and his brother were accused of sexual assault in 2012, by a woman who not only recanted her accusations, but pled guilty to filing a false police report. The problem is, their charges had already made the local news, which then never got around to mentioning the charges were dismissed. And years later, with uncorrected stories still sitting on news sites, Darcell was having to make calls like these.

How you doing, Jim? My name is Darcell Trotter and it was an article regarding of accused of — being accused of sexual assault, me, my twin brother.

Did we do a story where the charges were dropped too?

No, you guys never did that.

We should’ve had a follow-up story that charges were dropped.

Yeah, I mean, that would have been nice.

John: Yeah, it would’ve been! And if I could just talk to the “Jim” there for a second: hey Jim — I don’t know if that’s short for James, Jimothy, or Jimiroquai. But either way, Jim? Your paper goofed! You can’t just report the start of a story and ignore the end. Imagine if the news hadn’t covered the end of balloon boy. Oh, well! Guess he’s still up there! The balloon has left my immediate line of vision, so, who really gives a shit! So the news media can be overly reliant on eye-catching crime stories that are quick and easy to turn around. And the speed with which the daily crime beat operates actually leads to one of the biggest issues in crime coverage, which is that it often relies heavily on a single source. It’s why, if you watch tv news for any length of time, you’ll undoubtedly hear one particular phrase.

The Lovington police say they know who was responsible for a prank at a local park.

Police in Fairfield say an officer was attacked with bear spray.

Police say no suspects are in custody.

Police say —

Police say —

Police say —

Police say —

Police say —

Police say —

John: Yeah, “police say” is a phrase you constantly hear from the mouths of news reporters. It’s right up there with, “this just in,” or “back to you,” or “I apologize for the accent I did on cinco de mayo.” And look, there’s obviously nothing wrong with calling the police to ask questions. When you’re working on a deadline, you can’t always reach arrested civilians or their attorneys, who sometimes don’t want to talk with you anyway. And police can be easy to reach — many larger departments have even set up robust media-relations divisions. The la county sheriff’s department has 42 people in its information bureau, at an annual cost of $4.8 million, and the LAPD spends over $3 million for 25 people in similar units. Which is already telling. Because while a certain amount of spending is necessary, you don’t spend that much on PR if things are going “great.” For context, all those budgets combined equal just one month’s salary for Ezra Miller’s publicist. They are so tired. They need to sleep. Even smaller police departments can have Public Information Officers, or PIO’s, and as this one proudly notes, his press releases can make it straight to air.

Something major happens, whether it’s a shooting or some major car accident, whatever it is. You go back to your office. You type up this long press release, and you send it out to the public and all the news agencies. Within minutes, you have reporters from all over the country calling you. There’s something strangely satisfying that when you put out that press release, hours later, you’re watching the news, and every station that’s talking about your story is literally reading your press release word for word.

John: Set aside the fact that everything about this man answers the question “what if Fred Durst but worse?” That claim that the police’s versions of events can be parroted verbatim in the press is genuinely alarming. Although I can’t really fault him for being excited at seeing his work read word for word on tv. Ask my writers and they’ll tell you they experience the same thrill whenever I read one of their little jizz jokes. Their parents couldn’t be prouder. Hey, chrissy, did you like hearing me say your McGruff Dog jerking it joke, I bet you did you college graduate? But the fact reporters will echo PIO’s does explain certain things — like the ubiquity of phrases like “officer-involved shooting.” You see it in police accounts all the time, but it’s a weird term for reporters to repeat, because it deliberately omits crucial information about how the officer was involved. If you went to someone’s house for dinner and they said “tonight, there is a rat-involved dinner,” you’d justifiably have follow up questions. Are we going to a chuck e. Cheese? Is the chef being controlled by a tiny French rat under his hat? Or are we going to be on an episode of “kitchen nightmares?” All three are technically “rat-involved”, but some options are easier to live with than others. And honestly, police departments don’t always need a PIO to push their narrative, as outlets will sometimes just grab shit from a law-enforcement agency’s social media. For instance, police love posting evidence from busts they’ve conducted like this one, which a Texas news station not only shared on their own Facebook page, but even included on their evening broadcast.

A search warrant executed Monday has left three people behind bars. The Tenaha police department has released information on the raid.

Among the items seized were two pounds of marijuana, illegally possessed prescription pills, drug paraphernalia, packaging materials, guns, and cash.

John: Now, if you don’t really think about what you’re looking at there, I guess that seems like a story. But is it? Because, as many quickly pointed out, when you examine the photo, you realize, not only is that not a lot of drugs, there’s way less cash there than they’re going out of their way to make it look. Most of those are singles. That’s $70, total. One commenter on the station’s post said, “sick. This is Playskool’s my first dealer set,” with another adding, “who was the drug dealer, el cheapo?” And that speaks to the fact there can be a gap — sometimes small, but sometimes massive — between “the story police are telling everyone” and “the story that actually happened.” Because cops’ stories can, for a lot of reasons, turn out to be wrong, in ways both serious, and incredibly petty. Take the trend of cops claiming mistreatment at the hands of fast-food employees, which local news can be only happy to gobble right up.

A possible hate crime against police is being investigated right now at a Shake Shack in downtown Manhattan. Sources tell CBS 2, three officers became sick after having shakes from the restaurant tonight. Police suspect an employee may have contaminated the drinks with bleach.

The Layton police sergeant ordered a sub and a lemonade from this Subway. But after taking a few sips of his drink, he quickly found out he got much more than what he paid for.

He was having a hard time maintaining his body. His body was jerking.

What caused those side effects, police say, turned out to be a double dose of illegal narcotics.

DJ, a local law enforcement officer told eyewitness news he suspects someone at McDonald’s took a bite from his sandwich before he completed the sale.

Tonight a McDonald’s in junction city is investigating after a police officer found insulting words written on his coffee. The F-word has been blurred out in this image of course but, you can see the word pig written right below it.

John: Okay, there’s a lot there, but real quick: there was no bleach in the shakes, no drugs in the lemonade, the cop with the sandwich later admitted he’d simply forgotten he took a bite from it, and the one with the coffee admitted he’d written “fucking pig” on his own cup. Which is a serious act of self-loathing, unless you’re miss piggy, in which case it’s a slay. Outta the way boys, she’s got fashion to werk and frog dick to slurp. Who’s coffee is that? It’s this fucking pig’s. And that speaks to one of the major problems with deferring to police. Because — as many of you have undoubtedly been yelling at your tv, like I’m a wheel of fortune contestant who can’t solve the puzzle — police lie, and they lie a lot. As you’ve seen on this show, they’ve lied to get search warrants to conduct raids and to get confessions during interrogations, and they even lie under oath — so often that, here in New York, it came to be known as “testilying.” All of which should be more than enough for “the word of the police” to be treated with immense skepticism, rather than repeated verbatim. Take the notorious press release Minneapolis police put out following the murder of George Floyd titled “Man dies after medical incident during police interaction.” What you may not know is, it was picked up almost word for word by local news the next morning.

We do begin this morning with developing news. A man is dead after what police are calling a medical distress after being handcuffed. Now, officers were responding to a forgery in progress. It happened on the 3700 block of Chicago Avenue South. When they arrived, officers found a man they believed to be the suspect sitting inside a car. They apparently told him to get out. He resisted. Officers eventually got him handcuffed, which is when he appeared to have the medical issue. The suspect was taken to the hospital, where he died a short time later.

John: Now, obviously, that’s a hugely self-serving statement from the police. Because by saying “George Floyd died because of medical distress,” their role was completely erased. His “medical distress” — and I’m using the biggest air quotes humanly possible — was the result of an officer pressing his knee into his neck for nine minutes. Repeating that claim by the police is an act of malpractice akin to Walter Cronkite saying, “JFK died of a headache today.” Sure, it’s not “technically” wrong, but it’s the understatement of the fucking century. The point is, it was only after the release of cell phone footage recorded by a brave seventeen year old girl, that that police narrative fell apart. Otherwise, that bullshit press release might well have been the version of events that everybody heard. And that’s not a one-off. An investigation last year of police killings in California, found at least a dozen examples of initial police statements misrepresenting events, with reports citing “vague medical emergencies without disclosing that officers had caused the emergencies through their use of force.” And “in most instances, media outlets repeated the police version of events with little skepticism.” Which isn’t good! There’s a time and a place for media outlets to operate without skepticism, and it’s the cover of health magazines — not an ounce of critical thinking on this extremely real cover that includes the headlines “Lose 9 waist inches in 21 days” and “News! A potato a day ups weight loss by 340%!” That’s rock solid science, presumably! And there are times where the trust reporters place in some police sources has been particularly egregious. Just take what happened in Chicago, after the police shot teenager Laquan McDonald sixteen times. In their initial coverage, multiple local outlets featured interviews with one person on the scene, whose version of events heavily favored the police.

I don’t know what his mental state was, but he wasn’t dropping the knife and he was coming at the officer. You obviously aren’t going to sit down and have a cup of coffee with him. He is a very serious threat to the officers, and he leaves them no choice at that point but to defend themselves.

John: Well, that’s a very detailed picture painted by palm beach potato head there, but a few things: first, while he sounds like an eyewitness, he wasn’t there. Second, videotape later revealed that the story he was telling was complete horseshit — police shot MacDonald when he was walking away from them. But finally, reporters should’ve known to take anything that guy said with a massive grain of salt, because Pat Camden is the spokesperson for the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police, which functions as part police union, part special interest lobby group. His only agenda is to protect cops. And it was way too easy for this lil mustachio’d weirdo to hear there was a shooting, drive to the scene, jump in front of cameras and grab control of the narrative. And Camden does this a lot — one analysis found that in a four-year timespan, he provided an initial version of events for 35 police shootings. And in 15 cases, crucial aspects of his statements were later proved to be false or misleading. Which is just wild. If you get caught cheating at one casino, they ban you from every casino. This guy’s peddled bullshit to the press 15 times, yet somehow his picture isn’t pinned behind every news desk in the country, with the warning “do not ask this man about anything.” So, so, so often, it seems like news outlets would be serving their communities much better if they weren’t quite so trusting when it came to what police tell them. To see a lot of what I’ve talked about tonight in one place, take what happened in Brookside, Alabama, where a few years ago, local news was excitedly reporting on a new initiative from their police department, which “police said” was getting real results.

We tell you stories all the time about crime going up, but we got some good news: the town of Brookside says they’re seeing crime go down.

Brookside is not a big town, but its narcotics interdiction team? They’ve been busy.

Another drug bust this weekend on i-22.

And the Brookside police have been so busy.

Our number one goal is to not prosecute people. It’s to save lives. That’s why we got into this. We want to save lives. We want to keep our citizens safe. We want to keep people who are coming to Brookside safe and enjoy our town.

John: All that coverage is just so weird. It’s part local news fluff, part propaganda, and something bordering on a tourism ad from officer Teddy Ruxpin there. But think about it, it’s a bit strange that one tiny town in Alabama had suddenly become a hotbed for drug smuggling, right? Well, it turns out, yes. And I will say, to its credit, one local station did dig a little deeper, airing a report about the fact a weird amount of drivers were questioning the tickets written by that police department. A story, incidentally, that led that department to tell employees that anyone talking to that reporter would be fired. But it wasn’t until two years later that an in-depth investigation from revealed what had actually been happening, that is that Brookside — a town of just 1,200 people — was having its finances rocket-fueled by tickets and aggressive policing, with bullshit traffic tickets being issued at a truly ridiculous rate.

Brookside dragged so many people into court that police had to direct traffic on court days. Money from fines and forfeiture soared more than 600% to the point where it made up half the town budget.

John: It’s true. It got to the point where the police department was taking in $487 for every man, woman and child, and spending it on, among other things, a swat team, a jail, a fleet of unmarked cars, and two drug-sniffing dogs — one of which they named, and this is true, k-9 cash. Here is that dog. And I will say, he does look like a k-9 cash. And that’s not a compliment. Bad dog. But the point is, what was actually happening in Brookside turned out to be a pretty far cry from the initial coverage of, “hey, great news, this small town police force is apparently Miami Vice all of a sudden. Anyway, no further questions.” And the thing is, by presenting police uncritically, you’re not just helping them dodge accountability — you’re giving them a huge lobbying platform. Right now, you don’t have to look far to find cops on tv, suggesting the fix for any rise in crime is to undo the criminal justice reforms of the past few years, and to give them more money. And this can get real results. Even the current rainbow fentanyl scare started with a DEA press release, which happened to drop just as congress was in the midst of budget negotiations. Everyone picked up that story, and what do you know, last week, Chuck Schumer announced his intention to allocate nearly 300 million more dollars to law enforcement, so they can fight the scourge of rainbow fentanyl. And look, I’m not saying all crime reporting is bad. There’s some incredible coverage out there. We feature it on this show all the time, and a lot of what I told you tonight, came from great investigative reporting. But the daily crime beat, whether from lack of resources, lack of scrutiny, or lack of follow-through, far too often, takes police at their word, and not as an interest group who should be treated as such. So, what should happen here? Well, the police could change the ways they both behave and communicate. But given that’s not going to happen anytime soon, it unfortunately falls to the rest of us. For news outlets, they could try and snap out of their automatic deference to police. Which is actually possible — just watch what happened when a political web series from the hill invited on a public defender to discuss the case of Jayland Walker, who was killed by police after fleeing a traffic stop. Watch her push back when the host seems a little too eager to accept the police line.

There’s no world, no traffic infraction, the punishment is death, not a one, never. So there’s no reason why eight officers should choose to go and shoot him to death.

I — I guess I — I just don’t have a lot of sympathy in this particular case, although I do —

You don’t have a lot of sympathy in this case where he was shot 60 times?

After fle — after leading the police on a high-speed chase and returning fire?

First of all, let me just say this, the police, no, let’s — let’s — because too often media reports on what are police stories as though it is the ultimate truth. We see too many, too many discrepancies for us to cons — consistently lean on what the police say is the truth.

Absolutely, I agree.

Police say, which has not yet been substantiated or corroborated — they say they believe that one bullet might have come from the window. They said — that’s what the say. Their argument is maybe —

Right, who knows if that’s true?

Exactly. But what I do know is that they shot this boy 60 times for a traffic infraction, I know that, so.

All right, we’ll have our rising panel join us next.

John: That is amazing. If for nothing else than to watch baby Ryan Seacrest try to wrap up the segment after getting his ass absolutely handed to him. But while it’s incredible to watch him, in real time, backtrack from “I don’t have a lot of sympathy” to “absolutely, I agree, who knows what’s true?,” It shouldn’t be incumbent on that woman to walk him to that point. She can’t be on every local news set. She has a life to live. And there are small changes that might help reorient all of our thinking. Some experts have suggested that, rather than going with “police say,” outlets should consider going with “police claim,” instead which seems like a good start. And to be fair, some outlets are looking at other changes. Some, like the “USA Today” network, have stopped publishing mug shot galleries, saying they feed into negative stereotypes and are of limited news value. Which they are. And “The Arizona Republic” has pledged it will follow any case it covers to its conclusion, in courts or otherwise. Which hopefully will save people like Darcell Trotter from having to make phone calls like the incredibly restrained one that you saw him make earlier. But the larger cultural change might be for outlets to fundamentally reconsider whether the crimes they’re covering are actually newsworthy. Because the truth is, not all crimes are. And crime is only one small slice of the much bigger picture they could be painting of what’s happening in communities. The fact is, because crime news is pumped at us 24/7, the way it’s reported is deeply linked with how it’s both perceived by the public, and prosecuted by the state. And look, we’ve said before, local news is incredibly important, which is why it’s critical that it’s done well. So to the outlets who do put an undue amount of weight on police statements and prioritize sensational crime coverage over complete pictures of public safety, if I may, I’d like to throw it over to one of your own.

See what you’ve done? I don’t know who you are. I don’t know where you are. But you may want to start changing your ways.

John: exactly. And now this.

* * *

And now, another installment of local news beat poetry from NBC4 Washington’s Pat Collins.

They call it drifting. But it’s anything but that. Look at the skidmarks. They go round and round and round and round and round! It’s enough to make you dizzy! In this park, there is a bike, there was a trapping. And tonight, one fox is in custody.

♪♪ It happened way up there. What could cause something like this? There was no earthquake! This is something less than an act of god! It appears to be a big scrape job! ♪♪ [Applause]

John: That’s our show. Thanks so much for watching! We will see you next week! Good night!

[Cheers and applause]

It’s not just the words, it’s the driver side mirror! It’s the windshield!


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